What if certain organic materials could help extract rare metal components, essential for our electronic devices? This is the idea of a team of American researchers that could bear fruit on a large scale.
Neodymium: this barbaric-sounding name may not mean anything to you. However, it is found in many everyday electronic devices: our computers, our television screens… and even in the engines of hybrid cars!
Like most of the metals that make up our devices, they are extracted from rare and non-renewable resources. Not to mention that the devices in question generally have a limited lifespan. But a method developed by a team of American scientists from Penn State University could kill two birds with one stone. The latter designed an aqueous solution to which they added residual organic matter.
Specifically, the researchers ground tomato skin and corn on the cob, then mixed it with wood pulp and cotton paper into small pieces before soaking them in water. The introduction of microproduct and nanoparticles then caused a chemical reaction, activating the separation process necessary for the extraction of neodymium samples.
If this method is deployed on a large scale, the researchers believe that it could both reduce the mass of electronic waste while limiting the mining necessary to obtain these components which are equipped with our everyday devices.
“In the near future, we want to test our process on realistic industrial samples,” says Amir Sheikhi, assistant professor of chemical engineering who led the work. His team also hopes to extend this technique to other precious metals such as gold and silver.
According to one investigationcommissioned by the European Greens/EFA parliamentary group and published in December 2021, 40% of the digital environmental footprint in Europe is due to the depletion of metal resources and the use of fossil resources needed to manufacture electronic devices .